Water Package: Digging Into the Details

Share |
(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
It was one of those press conferences that involved a lot of patting on the back – and was heavy on the superlatives. Governor Schwarzenegger gathered with leaders from both parties to celebrate the legislature’s early morning passage of a major water package:
Here’s the Governor:
"The greatest package, the most comprehensive in the history of California.”
There was this from Democratic Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg:
We can in fact take the biggest most unsolvable problem in California and actually solve it.”
And this from Republican Senator Dave Cogdill:
“This is a great day – certainly the best day of my experience in the legislature…."
Water policy is about as contentious as it gets at the Capitol. Governor Schwarzenegger has called it a holy war over water – and stakeholders pursue their agendas with a religious-like devotion.  Lester Snow heads up the State’s Department of Water Resources:
I actually think the single biggest issue that has been an obstacle for dealing with this for three decades is the sheer complexity of water management in California.”
The new package is complicated, too - and wide-ranging. It requires Californians to use 20 percent less water over the next decade. It creates a new body to govern the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It also places an eleven billion dollar bond on the ballot to pay for restoring the Delta eco-system and to create new water storage – which could include dams. It does not mention the controversial plan to build a canal around the Delta. But the Governor says that IS going to happen:
"This will build water storage, above the ground and below the ground water storage. This will build the canal, in order to protect the Delta.”
Many who live in the Delta strongly disagree that a canal will offer protection. Quite the contrary. Democratic Senator Lois Wolk represents the Delta. She describes it like this:
“The equivalent of a 100-lane freeway, 48 miles long, through agricultural land, including five two-mile long tunnels to suck in the Sacramento River, the largest river in California.”
Water for two-thirds of California moves through the estuary, which has its own population, economy and wildlife. Right now the water is pushed through massive pumps – but a judge has restricted that to protect a tiny fish that gets caught and killed. The Schwarzenegger administration says a canal would alleviate that problem by bypassing the Delta.   But it would also mean less water flowing into the region, something environmentalists say would harm the ecosystem. Barbara Barrigan-Parilla is with “Restore the Delta”:
“The peripheral canal will deal the final death blow to the Delta because it will reroute the last major freshwater source around the Delta. Those freshwater flows need to move through the Delta to protect Delta fisheries and Delta Communities.”
Three years of drought have complicated the state’s water issues. Especially for farmers, whose fields sit idle due to lack of water. And for farm-workers, who are unemployed. Joe Del Bosque grows cantaloupe, asparagus, almonds and cherries in Firebaugh, about 45 miles from Fresno. He supports the water package but says he’s also realistic:
“This is not going to be a solution for the short-term. These are long-term solutions. We’re not sure when they’re going to start to kick in – maybe 3,4,6 years, but we’re hopeful that at least we’ve got this process started.”
And then there’s the issue of money. California’s broke. The state’s likely facing another multi-billion dollar deficit next year. At least half of the bonds can’t be sold until after 2015 – when lawmakers hope things will have turned around. But they’re trying to get Californians to sign off on the extra debt during the toughest economic time the state has seen since the Great Depression.